Age Discrimination Jury Verdict Supported by Sufficient Evidence

In EEOC v. AZ Metro Distributors, LLC, 2020 WL 7404432 (EDNY Dec. 16, 2020), the court, inter alia, held that a jury verdict in plaintiff’s favor on claims of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was supported by sufficient evidence, and therefore denied defendant’s Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law.

After reviewing the “black letter” substantive law, the court applied it to the facts/evidence of the case:

At trial, plaintiff clearly proffered “competent evidence of circumstances that would be sufficient to permit a rational finder of fact to infer a discriminatory motive.” Claudio, 955 F. Supp. 2d 118 at 130.

First, EEOC offered evidence that AZ Metro took adverse employment actions against Roberts and Fernandez, who, as the two oldest employees in the Brooklyn and Queens sales department, were severed from their employment with AZ Metro on the same day. Defendant contended, in a contradictory narrative, that both Roberts and Fernandez willingly and coincidentally resigned on the same day. Naturally, the two stories cannot both be accurate. Roberts and Fernandez both testified that they did not willingly resign on January 31, 2014. Tr. 248:23-25; 257:3-7; 414:12-16. Roberts told the jury that he spoke with AZ Metro’s Queens branch manager, Glenford Barsattee, on January 31, 2014, and rebuffed any suggestion that he wanted to quit his job at AZ Metro, as he wanted to work and needed money to pay medical bills. He recalled that Barsatee simply told him that his employment would be terminated at the end of the day. Later the same day, another supervisor, Pat Corso, told him that this was his last day at work. Tr. 287:7-14; 258:16-17; 265:10-22; 258:16-17; 265:10-22. Fernandez similarly testified that he spoke on the phone to Barsattee on January 31, 2014, and was told that AZ Metro wanted to “get rid” of him, a directive “from the top” of the company. Tr. 414:17–416:24. Also admitted into evidence, over defendant’s strenuous objections, were two lists of salespersons in the Brooklyn and Queens branches of AZ Metro and their ages. One list shows Fernandez and Roberts would have been the two oldest salespeople in the Queens and Brooklyn branches. Exhibit P-77. The other shows how, after January 2014, many substantially younger salespeople were hired. Exhibit P-32. Other evidence includes the lack of fairly standard resignation forms signed by either Roberts or Fernandez on the day of their separation from the company. Tr. 161:5–8.

Piercing through the verbal fog, it is clear that EEOC introduced sufficient evidence to allow the jury to find that defendant acted because of age and that age was not just a motivating factor behind the adverse action, but rather the ‘but-for’ cause of it.” Gross, 557 U.S. at 177–78. Roberts testified as to the statements of multiple supervisory employees remarking on his age and a desire to “move the salesforce in a younger direction.” Moreover, as plaintiff highlights, AZ Metro conceded during trial that “if [Roberts is] believed about that conversation, that people said he was fired because he was over a certain age, things like that, it’s a question of fact.”

[Internal citations omitted]

The court concluded that upon this showing, plaintiff established a prima facie case, warranting denial of defendant’s Rule 50 motion.

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